FabFilter Pro-Q Equalizer
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by David Gamson And Edited by Barry Rudolph
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Though not as well known as some of the larger plug-in companies, Holland-based FabFilter Software Instruments has created a small collection of high quality and exceptionally good sounding tools that range from virtual synths to stand alone filters, to compressors and extravagant delay processors.

Following the Pro-C (a high end compressor plug-in) is their latest offering, Pro-Q, a super high-quality parametric equalizer that stands out in a market already flooded with thousands of equalizer plug-ins--whoa! This one is different! It's not your father's EQ!

Starting with the deceptively simple and well thought out GUI, we found ourselves rethinking the whole equalization process because Pro-Q offers a huge range of tweakability and programmability. This level of processing makes this equalizer a powerfully creative tool, capable of completely transforming any program material in new imaginative ways.

The top section of the GUI is a blank, frequency vs. amplitude X/Y plot showing a 20Hz to 20kHz flat line response. By double-clicking on the line you'll begin to add EQ bands with a total of up to 24 bands possible. Each new EQ band is color-coded and has an "anchor point" or handle for dragging and changing its shape and frequency range. While in focus and under your control that EQ band appears on top of the other EQ bands in the GUI. Any EQ can be of a bell shape of any Q or high/low shelf and high/low cut topologies with 6, 12, 24, or 48dB/Oct slopes. The display offers three amplitude ranges: 6dB for mastering, and 12 and 30dB for mixing. This is an automatic gain ranging system that adjusts depending on the EQ bands' gain settings.

Underneath this graphic are three large knobs that control frequency, gain and Q for the selected EQ band. But we found, by learning a few modifier keys, we rarely used the control knobs because it was easier to make the same adjustments by clicking and dragging the EQ curves in just about any way desired. You can also double-click and type in parameter values. Checking the effect of any single EQ band is easy by bypassing it separately by Option + clicking (MAC) the band's handle.

There are four different linear phase modes: low latency, medium latency, high latency, and maximum latency. In zero latency mode, the EQ functions like a normal processor but in linear phase EQ mode, there is latency based on the greater processing and CPU resources required.

Linear Phase equalization can lead to the creation of 'pre-echoes' that can make low-frequency transients (e.g. a kick drum) lose their edge. Choosing the latency correctly is a compromise between the program material and your personal preference. In DAWs that compensate for latency automatically like Pro Tools, CuBase or Nuendo, latency is not an issue in mixing. We found ourselves using the high latency setting when using the Pro-Q as a stereo bus program EQ. For live tracking, you'll want to use the zero latency mode.

Since FabFilter's Pro-Q also comes as a stereo version, a single click on each band affects both channels together. Click the L or R button in the bottom of the GUI window and affect only the left or right side. Likewise, in M/S (Mid-Side) mode, each band can affect just the Mid, or just the Side, or both components together.

The GUI operates very smoothly. We experienced no glitchiness in the sound or the graphical display when automating or making drastic EQ changes across all 24 bands. An embedded spectrum analyzer provides helpful visualization of any applied EQ. The analyzer display is shown transparently behind the EQ curves and it is possible to see frequency analysis either pre or post equalization. On/off controls for the spectrum analyzer display, global bypass, standard stereo or M/S mode select, level and pan are all at the bottom of the GUI.

Editing Equalization

Copying one EQ band from one side to the other is done with the Scissor Tool. We saved time matching settings on stereo sources with this handy tool. Another useful design feature is the ability to change Q, by Ctrl + clicking in Windows or Command + Click in MACs, on the EQ anchor point and then mousing up or down. We found this amazingly helpful. This came in very handy while trying to tame a synth bass that had too much information in the 30-60Hz range.

By simply Ctrl + clicking the high pass filter and playing with the cut-off and Q all at the same time we were able to quickly control the unwanted sub-bass frequencies while maintaining a full bass sound. While this is, of course, possible on other EQs, the user interface on Pro-Q is clear and amazingly efficient for the task.

The MIDI Learn function programs any GUI button or control to any knob or switch of a connected MIDI controller. Under MIDI Learn, touch a button on the GUI, turn a Controller knob and it's assigned. We realized an amazing filter effect by assigning the frequency, gain, and Q knobs for two different anchor points (one left and one right) to our MIDI controller and then recording our performance in our DAW. Effects that are normally reserved for “filter” effect plug-ins like a Moog emulation are easily achieved with the Pro-Q and with far more control.

Definitely A Professional-Q

Pro-Q is a Swiss Army knife for sound sculpting. It's not a "vibe" EQ like a Pultec or a Neve so audio going through it does not take on the particular character of those vintage units. We think of Pro-Q as a finely crafted audio surgical tool.

It can be quite smooth sounding making it a good choice for a program EQ (especially in linear phase mode). But you can also perform drastic amounts of boost and cut with each band capable of up to 30dB of gain!!

On a synth pad we tried 12 bands of EQ on the left side and 12 bands on the right side all with very tight Q's. We quickly lasso-selected all the bands on each side and automated some crazy frequency movements for an amazing band pass filter effect. For a breakdown in a dance-oriented track we were able to program the frequency changes in time, creating a whole new section in our song.

Unfortunately, you can't assign more than one EQ band at a time with MIDI learn. It would be nice to lasso multiple EQ anchor points and assign them all to the same controller at the same time--perhaps in a future version, this might be possible.

While it won't replace your Pultecs or API plug-in equalizers, it is an amazingly useful tool to have at the ready. We used Pro-Q on everything from drums to guitars to vocals to the entire stereo mix bus and it shined in all applications. It is a brilliantly thought out and designed processor that sounds perfect for all sources and is now a mainstay in all our work.

FabFilter's Pro-Q is available in RTAS, VST, VST 3, and AU for MAC OSX and Windows hosts. It sells for $199 in a boxed or downloadable versions. Much more at: www.fabfilter.com.

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